Where is John Darwin now and how long was he in prison? The true story behind The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe

a collage showing John Darwin and wife Anne Darwin

Viewers watching new ITV drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe are eager to know where is John Darwin now and what happened to his wife Anne Darwin?

ITV have been treating us to a number of dramas to help pass the evenings of late - be it the Sheridan Smith starring No Return or the gripping murder-mystery series The Holding. And now the broadcaster has everyone talking about it's latest offering based on the true story of British couple Anne and John Darwin. Ex-teacher John famously faked his own death in a canoeing accident gone wrong - in a bid to try and escape and pay off the couple's debts. It additionally centres on wife Anne's role in the schemes - including her lies, and a new theme of forgiveness. Played by Bafta-winner Monica Dolan, Anne’s inner monologue narrates the story while Eddie Marsan plays narcissistic John.

None of the Darwin family were involved in making the The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe, though the script was based on court documents, police interviews, TV appearances and newspaper stories. We share the need-to-know details on where the real life pair are now and how long they spent in prison for their crimes.

Where is John Darwin now?

John Darwin is said to be now settled in the Philippines with his second wife Mercy May. The conman, 70, and his 47-year-old wife recently moved out of crowded capital Manila to a property around 30 minutes away, according to The Mirror.

It's understood that John and Mercy May married in 2015 after an online romance but could not settle in the UK due to immigration issues.

a photo showing where John Darwin is now

UNDATED: This Handout photograph from Cleveland Police shows John Darwin. (Photo by Cleveland Police via Getty Images)

The newspaper reports that his new wife, is a mum-of-three and sub-lets her clothing stall in the city's market and runs another retail venture. Meanwhile John is thought to still receive a UK state pension of around £134 a week and it is believed they let the property next door to their new home.

Mercy May told the publication, “I have a new business. I’ve had it for three years now. Boom. Making money.”

Where is Anne Darwin now and where does she live?

Anne Darwin was released from prison in March 2011 and now lives in York and has reconciled with her sons Mark and Anthony. Anne and John divorced soon after they were both freed - despite John telling her that they could rekindle their marriage upon release from jail. John later admitted he desired to be with a younger partner and the two ended their marriage after 38 years together.

Prior to her release, Anne appealed against her sentence but her case was turned down by the Court of Appeal in March 2009. So she served the full sentence and following her release from prison the Crown Prosecution Service announced that £500k in life insurance and pension payouts received by Anne had been recovered.

Anne Darwin

The wife of "back-from-the-dead" Briton John Darwin, Anne Darwin (L), leaves 09 December 2007 Manchester Airport police station before being handed over to Cleveland Police, who are leading the probe. Anne Darwin was detained on her return from Panama, where she was tracked down after her husband walked into a London police station last weekend, claiming to remember nothing since he disappeared five years ago following an apparent canoeing accident. "Greater Manchester Police arrested a 55-year-old woman in connection with allegations of fraud as part of an investigation being headed by police in Cleveland," a police spokeswoman said 09 December 2007. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES (Photo credit should read ANDREW YATES/AFP via Getty Images)
(Image credit: AFP via Getty Images)

How long did John and Anne Darwin get in prison?

John and Anne Darwin were both convicted of fraud on 23rd July 2008. John received a prison sentence of six years and three months after admitting eight deception and fraud charges, while Anne was sentenced to six-and-a-half years for fraud and money-laundering.

For anyone not familiar with the real-life news story, Anne helped her husband to fraudulently collect his life insurance and pensions of £250,000 after helping him fake his own death at sea when the remains of his canoe were found on a beach in Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, Teesside, in March 2002.

A body was never found but at the time search and rescue presumed he was dead and the couple managed to trick insurers, police and even their two sons into believing their father was dead.

But John was alive and was living next door, without anyone - except his wife - knowing.

The fraudulent death also allowed the couple to pay off their £130,000 mortgage.

How did John Darwin get caught?

John Darwin got caught in 2007 because the couple had been photographed together in Panama a year earlier, where they planned to live. He lived under the alias 'John Jones.' However, changes to Panama's visa laws meant that his identity had to be verified by UK police.

John knew his new identity would not pass this level of scrutiny. So the former teacher and prison officer then suddenly reappeared at a London police station in 2008, claiming he had lost his memory for the last five years.

John Darwin fake passport photo

Detective Superintendent Tony Hutchinson of Cleveland Police holding up the fake passport picture of John Darwin in December 2007 - 5 years after John was presumed dead. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Anne Darwin was detained on her way back from Panama. She was tracked down after her husband walked into a London police station, claiming to remember nothing since he disappeared five years ago following an apparent canoeing accident.

At the time his wife Anne confessed to knowing her husband was alive. And that he had been secretly living in their house and the house next door, which allowed him to receive the insurance money illegally for his own personal gain.

They were later found guilty, with John and Anne being jailed in 2008.

Where to watch The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe:

You can catch the dramatisation of this famous real-life story on ITV and ITV Hub. The first episode of The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe premiered on Sunday 17 April at 9pm on ITV1, and the following three episodes are airing daily at the same time - concluding on Wednesday 20 April.

However, those who can't wait to watch the full series are also able to view all episodes on ITV Hub now. The drama is made up of four episodes, each lasting around 60 minutes with ad breaks.

If you've already finished the series and are looking for similar viewing consider Sky TV's 2022 series Landscapers. It's based on another husband-and-wife true crime story of Susan and Christopher Edwards, who murdered and buried Susan’s parents – William and Patricia Wycherle in 1998. Though they weren't found out for over a decade later.

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Selina Maycock
Senior Family Writer

Selina is a Senior Family Writer for GoodtoKnow and has more than 16 years years of experience. She specialises in royal family news, including the latest activities of Prince George, Charlotte, Louis, Archie and Lilibet. She also covers the latest government, health and charity advice for families. Selina graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2006 with a degree in Journalism, and gained her NCTJ and NCE qualifications. During her career, she’s also written for Woman, Woman's Own, Woman&Home, and Woman's Weekly as well as Heat magazine, Bang Showbiz - and the Scunthorpe Telegraph. When she's not covering family news, you can find her exploring new countryside walking routes, catching up with friends over good food, or making memories (including award-winning scarecrows!)